Second thoughts about AirAsia’s online engagement

Next Friday I’m taking three weeks off.  Last year I used up all my leave for study, just to get myself graduated.  The piece of paper, the black cape and the photo with the blue background, it’s all about making Mum happy, but it was a relief to finally get there.  My last holiday was in 2009, and that was two-parts conference, one part leisure, so it was not that relaxing.  This year I’m going to KL for three days, Bali for four, then Vietnam for a week.  A busy itinerary but lots of interesting experiences I hope.

I’m flying Malaysian Airlines to KL and from Saigon back to Melbourne.  Those flights are the backbone of my trip.  The limbs are shorter flights, from KL to Denpasar, and Denpasar to Jakarta and onward to Saigon.  I’ve been hoping to fly AirAsia for those flights.  But for weeks, their site has repeatedly declined my Westpac Mastercard.  It turns out I’m not alone.  I’m a classic Gen Y – I will exhaust every other option before I get on the phone – so I tried their e-form, their online chat, Twitter accounts (@airasia, @askairasia, @tonyfernandes) – before finally calling.

The online information services all gave me unhelpful advice or canned lines.

In response to your email, we are extremely sorry to hear that you were experience difficulties while making online booking with us. We would like to inform that we currently having difficulty in verifying some card issued by certain bank. We recommend that you to use another credit card to make your purchase.

@airasia Hi, suggest you try to book with a different card 🙂

e-Chat:  Try signing into ‘My Account’ on our website and registering your card as a 1-Click payment option, or use one of our Direct Debit services.

AirAsia claim that Paypal can be used for transactions from Australia, but they seem to determine your country of origin based on the currency you select or your destination, and AUD is no longer listed in their currencies list, so that left me with Indonesian and Vietnamese bank options.

Finally I called and the operator I spoke with confirmed that AirAsia has been having a problem with Westpac Mastercards.  So this afternoon I hit up Australia Post, picked up a prepaid Visa debit card, loaded it and used it successfully to book my flights.

I used to like AirAsia.  They’re quick and efficient with a friendly public image.  Now, I’m not so sure.  There are two possibilities:

  • They might be incompetent as a learning organisation, so that knowledge available to their call centre doesn’t get passed onto their online team.
  • Or more likely, they don’t want to admit a failing in an online environment, fearing it will ‘go viral’ and get RT’d all over Twitter.

But let’s look at this from the customer’s point of view: what is the value of having online contact methods if you get bad information from them?  You’re just wasting my time inviting me to contact you online if you’re not going to be honest and upfront in that space.  And you’re wasting my money; in the time I spent trying to fix this issue, three or four weeks, the price of the flights increased.

AirAsia got my money and my custom, but lost my respect in the process. Isn’t that what online engagement is meant to strengthen – the customer relationship?

If there’s one thing Australians hate, it’s companies who treat us like idiots.  It was instructive when National Express – who operate large chunks of the train system in Britain – quit their contracts in Melbourne because the operating environment was just too difficult.  We’re meaner than Britons, for god’s sake.

A few years later, Connex got the boot for essentially similar reasons – everyone knew they weren’t responsible for the rolling stock and track work that was causing the delays, but their inept public relations pissed us all off.  I’m betting Tiger Airways is next – they’re mean, obsessed with rules, and their ‘lounge’ is little more than a cage on the tarmac.  To date AirAsia has done a struck a good balance between friendliness and efficiency in the Australian setting – but this experience creates doubt about their ability to sustain it.


@AirAsia Hi, we will highlight your feedback to the relevant team for improvement. Thank you 🙂


Couple of intriguing developments in the referrer stats for this blog post.  A number of visits came via, which I’m guessing is the Twitter CRM platform used by AirAsia.  Another visit came via a Google search for the blog title and my full name, which feels a little bit invasive – but then again I do put myself out there.  Most intriguing is a visit via a Google search for “airasia”.  My first thought was “Aha! Proof that blogging about bad customer experience can help create pressure for change.”  Until I ran the search myself… I stopped looking after twenty pages of results.  (My guess is that AirAsia has invested in a huge amount of SEO; for example, the Skytrax customer review page for AirAsia doesn’t appear until page 18 of the search results.)  Some poor numpty has had to keep clicking until they found it, probably to ascertain where, and then (god bless ’em) they clicked that link and let me know they were looking.